Amla pleased with match practice
The South Africans are playing their only warm-up ahead of the Test series against Australia, during which their No. 1 ranking is at stake, on a pitch that is unlikely to resemble anything that their title defence will start on. Yet, Hashim Amla managed to find positives in the ongoing run-fest against Australia A.
The SCG surface is slow with no assistance for the bowlers, while the Gabba pitch is expected to have pace, bounce and carry. South Africa tried to move the warm-up match to Brisbane, because they feared they would not have much to gain in Sydney, but their request was denied. So, Amla chose to look on the bright side.
"It's good preparation anyway. Time in the middle no matter what the wicket is invaluable," Amla said after the South Africans ended the second day on 128 for 1. "I'm sure if you had to ask Graeme [Smith], Alviro [Petersen] or myself whether we would prefer a net session or a hit in the middle in a practice match, we'd take the match."
Amla also elaborated on the benefits for the bowlers. "All our seamers got a bowl and Imran [Tahir] managed to have a really long spell, which is what we wanted," he said. Tahir bowled 40 of the 135 overs that the South Africans spent in the field and took two wickets with an economy of less than four runs an over, despite being expensive to start with.
Tahir was used as early as the tenth over on the first day, with Smith looking to give the Test bowlers sufficient match practice. Once it was decided that Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Rory Kleinveldt had bowled enough, the part-timers were also given a chance, something Amla, in particular, enjoyed.
"It also gave the part-timers like JP [Duminy], Faf [du Plessis] and myself a few overs," he joked. While Duminy and du Plessis are genuine options for South Africa, Amla has not bowled since, "I can't remember," but he did get four overs as Smith looked to wind down the clock. "I really enjoyed those four overs," he said. "I have been in the captain's ear a few times about giving me a go and I finally got a chance to show my skills."
Amla has bowled a little in the past and even has a first-class wicket. "It was Parthiv Patel. I got him during a South Africa A game when I was still bowling seamers," he said. If anything, Smith may have been hoping that bringing Amla on again would be a signal to Australia A to declare so the South Africa batsmen could have as much time as the bowlers did.
Time was the one advantage Amla said South Africa would really take from the practice game. "It's not really about the stats or the results in a game like this. In these warm-up games, we wanted to bat for a period of time. We also needed time on our legs, because some of us have been off for three weeks."
Amla is among the nine members of the squad who have not played any first-class cricket since August but have been involved in a glut of 20-over fixtures. Spending four-and-a-half sessions in the field was also important, according to Amla, to ready themselves for the rigours of Test cricket. "During Tests, you may field for a whole day and you need to get used to that fatigue you may get in the legs," he said.
He conceded the intensity of the South Africans was not quite what it will be in a Test match. "In a Test match, where you are playing for your country, you still get those butterflies. In these matches, there are patches where you try to up the pace …"
It was for that reason that Smith retired on 60 after he had found the boundary 11 times, most of those coming towards the end of his innings. "He gave me a good hour to bat," Amla said. More of the same can be expected on the final day, when the rest of South Africa's line-up will want a hit before the first Test starts next Friday.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent